Who Wrote 1 John?

The Apostle John Who wrote 1 John? The three letters of John are among the last written in the apostolic era. According to the traditional view of these three letters, they were written by John the son of Zebedee, one of the twelve apostles, most likely the Beloved Disciple in the Gospel of John. He also wrote the Gospel of John and the book of Revelation. We know very little about John’s activity after Acts 8 and even there he is only mentioned as a companion of Peter. Even though there is a good argument to be made he did ministry in Samaria, little can be known with any certainty.

The Gospel of John has several hints he led a synagogue of Christian Jews and Samaritans. According to tradition, he left Judea and Samaria in the mid-60s just before the Jewish War began and relocated in Ephesus. He led Jewish Christian congregations there until the late 80s or early 90s when he was exiled to the island of Patmos. He wrote the Gospel of John about 85, the three letters and Revelation about 90. He died in the early 90s and was buried in Ephesus. His grave became Saint John’s Basilica and ruins of this church are still a tourist site in Ephesus.

As with most things traditional, almost every aspect of this story is disputed. Like the Gospel of John, the first letter is anonymous and there is no way to prove John left Judea or Galilee and traveled anywhere. The traditions about John the son of Zebedee moving to Ephesus are complicated by the use of the title “John the Elder.” The Elder is the author of Second and Third John, but there is some question whether the John the Elder is the same person as John the Apostle. Eusebius and Jerome both though there were two different men, the Apostle John (who wrote the Gospel and Revelation) and John the Elder, who wrote at least Second and Third John.

In addition, John would have been very old by the end of the first century, leading some to suggest the Gospel and letters represent a community formed around John rather than an elderly John writing these letters himself. Raymond Brown developed the Johannine Community theory in his Anchor Bible Commentaries on the Gospel of John and the Epistles of John and remains a popular view, although it has been frequently challenged.

There are also some complicated theories about how the Gospel of John was formed and how 1 John may be a response to a misunderstanding of an earlier edition of the Gospel. The first letter has been described both as a “cover letter” for the Gospel and as a hermenutical guide for reading the Gospel.

The situation for Second and Third John is slightly different since the author identifies himself as “the elder.” But this not much of a hint at the identity of the author. There even some in the early church who wondered if the Second John needed to be in the canon since it is a brief summary of First John and adds almost nothing to what the first letter says.

Regardless of all this scholarly consternation about the origins of these letters, they are among the most popular among Bible readers today. For many, 1 John is  practical and easy to read letter, yet it is challenging both theologically and spiritually.

18 thoughts on “Who Wrote 1 John?

  1. The idea that the same author wrote John and Revelation is absurd. The author of Revelation was likely John Zebedee, and he wrote it around 41 A.D.. This date is ascertained by Paul’s reference to at II Corinthians 12:1-5, where Paul mocks the 7 thunders since they reveal nothing except making their author more important since the revelation gives him knowledge he is forbidden to make known (Rev. 10:1-4), and then reveals its revealing angel as Satan appearing as an angel of light (ii Cor. 11:13-15). The Gospel of John and the letters are likely written by John Mark, a cousin of Jesus.,

    Woodrow Nichols

  2. Tradition can either become the friend or the enemy of facts and history. In the case of the letter of 1 John, this truth directly applies.
    John, being a very popular name during the time of Christ allows for scholars to examine which John may have written this particular letter. It is no doubt why some scholars suggest John Mark, the association of Peter and author of the Gospel of Mark. However, a great deal of doubt is cast upon this idea because there are almost no similarities between the Gospel of Mark and the letter of 1 John. This is often why John Mark is not considered the author of 1 John. However, John the Disciple and brother of James who is the son of Zebedee, is the one considered to be the author of the Gospel of John as well as 1-3 John. In a comparison of the Gospel of John and 1 John, there is a great deal of similarities. According to Jobes, the way each of the books starts is very similar, focusing on “the beginning” (Jobes 405). It is clear that the author wants to focus on what he is about to say from start to finish in both of these narratives and it should be noted that neither specifically say that John wrote them, such as the other Jewish Christian literature specifies. An important piece of evidence is that John refers to himself as an eyewitness in 1 John 1:1, showing that he was there for the events of Christ’s ministry. A notable fact is that in the Gospel of John, he refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:1,23; 19:26; 21:7, 21:20) and in 2-3 John he calls himself “the elder”.
    Jobes explains that many of the church fathers of the second and third generations either combined or considered 1 John and 2 John or 2 John and 3 John to be the same text (Jobes 447). Jobes also suggests that possibly these were a collection of letters brought to Gaius, with 3 John as a personal letter addressed to Gaius himself and 2 John as an opener to 1 John, which was a sermon to a church (Jobes 440, 447). An important fact to note is that even the church fathers recognized John as the author of 1 John, and never had its canonicity disputed – either by the church fathers or today – displaying the fact that this letter was written upon apostolic authority (Jobes 431-432).
    There are many small pieces of evidence backed up by Scripture to show that John, brother of James, was the author of 1 John, as well as the author of 2 John and 3 John.

  3. Jobes states that the authorship of 1 John is anonymous (Jobes 399). The reason that this is so interesting is because it lines up with much of what the New Testament claims about the writers of many books. If the authorship is hard to pin, often times we assume that it was written by a collective group of people who were surrounded by this person who claimed authorship. The term “we” is used much in 1 John and that is often times where we find this claim to authorship. If the author, is constantly describing themselves as “we” then usually it is a group of people that all write in someones name. These people usually know the person very well and are very familiar with their writing styles and what not. The only issue is that maybe they include things that the author might not have wanted or including things differently. 1 John portrays the version of “we” that describes a community of people rather than just one individual, which claims authorship by more than just one person.

  4. At the conclusion of this blog post, it is mentioned that the book of 1 John in the New Testament is a very practical and easy to read book, but the book is not easy from the standpoint of how this book challenges Christians theologically and spiritually. When I read this statement of the blog post, I immediately agreed with the premise of the statement. After reading the text of Jobes (2011) on this book, as well as the text from the Bible itself. The book is not a challenging read in terms of understanding the meaning and messages that are incorporated throughout the text. Other books of the Bible are much more challenging to understand based on the content and the message. However, like other books in the Bible, the book of 1 John does an excellent job of challenging its readers. As a student of the Bible and a Christian, there is nothing I like more than a book that I can easily read and understand, but I will also be challenged and motivated to serve the kingdom of God in a better manner.

    According to Jobes (2011), the letter of 1 John is an anonymous letter (p. 398). This relates to the discussion of this specific blog post. Like other letters in the New Testament where the author is not agreed upon, it is important to understand why the author of the letter is not always named. In personal letters, it would not be expected that the author identify themselves. Jobes (2011) claims that the letter of 1 John is a letter that fits this description of a letter that is personal and would not require a formal introduction. It is important to study the context and dates of these kinds of letters to get a better understanding of who wrote the letter or book in the Bible.

    Jobes, K. H. (2011). The Letters to the Church. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

  5. For anybody who reads this comment please review 2nd Corinthians in your bibles as this totally false information.

  6. You should probably do a bit more research. The majority of the things mention in Revelation are mentioned in Daniel, Isaiah, Ezekiel and many of the other minor prophets. They why the book of Revelation is apart of the Authorized KJV Bible. Read it for yourself instead of reading from random stranger on the internet.

  7. Are you responding to me (the original post) or or Woodrow? There are about 100 posts on Revelation and maybe 25 on Daniel on this blog…Woodrow and I disagree on most things about Revelation, but we are still friends.

  8. I think the important thing to remember about the authorship of 1 John is that in the end the message is the same. The use of scribes or writing in the name of a popular figure was not uncommon in this era. This highlights a benefit of adhering to the traditional view, simplicity. The idea that the John of 1-3 John and Revelation is the same John of the Gospel of John helps connect the letters to the canon of scripture and the gospels.
    Just taking the traditional view at face value may seem shallow, but it is accessible. Those unfamiliar with the Bible may be overwhelmed at all the debate between various potential authors or the validity of each one. The traditionally view eliminates this problem.

  9. This was a very interesting blog post because as we know it only 2 John and 3 John have an actual author, while the question arises who wrote 1 John. I really like how Jobe mentions 1 John as more of a cover letter to the epistles of John because throughout 1 John the overall structure and voice of the letter was more of an informative warning about the gospel. Thus, I stand with P.Long in his initial response to whom wrote 1 John; for P.Long states “1 John portrays the version of “we” that describes a community of people rather than just one individual, which claims authorship by more than just one person” (P.Long). Thus, I personally agree with this passage from P.Long the most because the letter seems like it was formulated with multiple perspectives with different pivotal points about the gospel of Jesus Christ and faith in God the Father and confidence in the Spirit. I also really liked this blog post because it opened my eyes a little bit more in regards to how easy and comprehensive the letter was to read and follow. Just like God’s commandment, the word and good deeds that God wants us to abide by are really easy and not burdensome; so why does mankind have such a hard time doing what is the right thing and not the evil thing. Mankind gets so easily distracted and persuaded by evil influences because we do not have full attention and faith in God. 1 John is a letter that tells the reader exactly what God wants in a relatively easy and understandable way. However, the things that are easily read and understood are hard to actually apply to regular everyday life. Hence, 1 John is such an important and interesting epistle that can be observed as a cover letter, setting the stage for the rest of 2 and 3 John.

  10. We have seen a lot in the Jewish letters that there are a lot of unknown authors in some of the letters we have been through. The three letters of John are some of the last letters written in the apostolic era which makes us believe that the views in these letters lead us to John actually writing the letters of his books. We come to believe that He also wrote the gospel of John along with the book of revelation. There are some theories that rather than John himself writing the letters because by the time they were written John would have been a very elderly man, the theory comes to conclusion that the author may have been a community that was formed around John because some think he may have been too old to write these himself. I think that the theology in the letters of John are way too similar to the gospel of John in the wording and the way it is written that it would have to have been John to write the letters. I am very interested into reading back into more of the letters of John since it has been a bit since I have read all the way through them.

  11. Who wrote 1 John? This is a great question- and as we continue to progress throughout the semester- it strikes me as quite fascinating just how many of the New Testament letters do not have clearly given authorship. While it is important for us to be good theologians researchers as we strive to continually understand God’s word more and more, we can still learn from His word and all the truth that it contains, despite not knowing who the author of every book is. But if we are going to really dive in deep and make an educated conjecture on the authorship of 1 John, I would have to agree with the points made in this post and go with John, the beloved disciple. So many of the points that are made in 1 John resonate with me as theological truths and concepts that John himself would make. The theological views and conclusions about belief in Christ and what it means to believe are strikingly similar, which leads me to believe that the case for authorship is quite clear in this instance. 1 John talking about Christ being “That which was from the beginning,” and attributions to Christ and God being ” God is light; in him there is no darkness at all,” are both very similar to truths found in to John 1 as well.

  12. Despite the fact that disciple John been an illiterate, unschooled ignorant man (Acts 4:13) how on earth Christians believe that the gospel John, Revelations and the 3 epistles written by the disciple John in a foreign language (Greek) eloquently?

  13. The three letters of John and Revelation are written in quite distinct styles, and the Greek style is quite simple. Luke and Acts are eloquent, Revelation is not (this is the consensus view on the Greek style of Revelation).

    If the consensus view is correct and the Letters of John were written in the late AD 80s – 90s, then there is about 50 years for John to learn to write. In addition, people did not write books, they dictated to an amanuensis who did the actual writing (see, for example Romans 16:22, Tertius greets the readers, the one “who wrote this letter”. He is likely a slave who wrote the letter for Paul, who dictated the letter of Romans. See this post:


    Finally, Greek was not really a foreign language, although certainly the first language of a first century Jew living in Galilee was Aramaic. By the first century, the eastern empire spoke Greek along with local dialects. You can question whether John had “scribal literacy” in Greek, but he certainly spoke it. I have been in several Middle Eastern countries where English was not the official language; almost everyone could speak English as a second (or third) language.

  14. Interesting theory, Woodrow, but II Corinthians 12:1-5 is clearly Paul referring to himself in the third-person, and not taking about John, Revelation, or the 7 thunders.
    When you say “Paul mocks the 7 thunders since they reveal nothing except making their author more important…” you infer that Paul is refusing to boast of himself, and thus will …boast about someone else? Because he is indeed boasting, in this portion and throughout 2 Cor, and is also speaking of himself – contextually, the chapters before and after are about Paul establishing his credentials and authority/legitimacy, so to speak.
    You’re missing the intentional distancing Paul is using here to “humble brag” about an experience he does not want to fully take “personal” credit for – that is why he ends this statement saying: (2 Cor 12:6) “For though I might desire to boast, I will not be a fool; for I will speak the truth. But I refrain, lest anyone should think of me above what he sees me to be or hears from me.” That last sentence spells out that the experience he just relayed (and more precisely him taking pride in or full ownership of it to his person, whether in or out of the body) would make others think more highly of him, beyond what is evident in his writings and face-to-face interactions.

    – In other, far more on-the-nose, less brief and less poetic words, Paul is saying here in verse 6: “I would brag, but I’m not naive or deluded – I have instead told only the truth here. I’ll end the matter now without going further into it (as you surely pick up my inferences and meaning without me needing to go into more detail), for the reason that those in the church, after hearing what I’ve disclosed to you about “a man I know,” do not elevate me or revere me beyond my own person, (as such an experience as I have related to you now would otherwise surely warrant).”

    You continue saying, “…since the revelation gives him knowledge he is forbidden to make known” in reference to verse 4 when Paul says: (he knows “such a man”) “how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, not permitted for man to speak.” You’re connecting that to Rev 10:1-4, but in Paul’s instance, the inexpressible words are not words he Told not to relay, but words that humans simply cannot express or utter – this refers to the Jewish idea of the divine names of God which are impossible to speak or transmit, and not that he heard intelligible words that he was forbidden to write or repeat, as was the case for John/Revelation.

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